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A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

DR DOCIA KISSEIH

DR DOCIA KISSEIH

1919–2008

Docia Kisseih was born in August 1919 in Odumase, eastern Ghana. She was educated at local Presbyterian schools until secondary school. She then attended Krobo Girls Senior High School, before boarding at Achimota School to obtain her Cambridge Higher School Certificate in 1938. After her mother's death, Docia and her siblings were cared for by their grandmother, who was a midwife and would bring her grandchildren to the hospital when working overnight. This is where a teenage Docia witnessed her first live birth. She continued to accompany her grandmother to births during her holidays from college.


In 1940, Docia started her career at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, enrolling for three years of nursing training and specialising in midwifery. After qualifying as a midwife, in 1943 she began a three year tenure at Korle Bu. She then obtained further nursing, midwifery, and public health qualifications in Britain during the 1950s, both at the Nightingale School and the Royal College of Nursing. In 1960, Docia founded and became the first president of the Ghana Registered Nurses Association (GRNA). She was also a member of the National Health Planning Committee and the Nurses and Midwives Board. In 1961, Docia was made the first Chief Nursing Officer in the newly independent Ghana.


As Chief Nursing Officer, she oversaw the development of formal nursing training and the standardisation of nursing and health care in Ghana. Docia envisioned having at least 10% of Ghanaian nursing professionals be university graduates. In 1980, the first BSc and BA nursing degree programs were taught at the University of Ghana, in Accra. Alongside the World Health Organisation (WHO), she helped to develop and implement new curriculums and training programmes in nursing and maternal health, and oversaw the expansion of the Ghanaian nurse “from the hospital context to a community multifaceted role”.


She wrote about the history of professional nursing and the reality of a colonial nursing education in Ghana. In the International Journal of Nursing Studies, Docia set out what plans had been put in place for the future of Ghanaian health care and nursing and surveyed its history. She highlighted that nursing education in Ghana varied widely and lacked standardisation, and that due to a lack of qualified candidates locally, senior nursing posts were most often held by women who had trained abroad, mostly in Britain.


Docia continued to work at Korle Bu Hospital until her retirement from nursing in 1974. From 1975 to 1981, she lectured in the Department of Nursing at the University of Ghana. In 1980, she obtained a doctorate from Boston University in the U.S., becoming the first Ghanaian nurse to hold a post-graduate degree. She also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Council of Nurses from 1969 to 1973), and served as their first vice-president from 1973 to 1977.

Docia was also a former President of the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Council and stood on the World Health Organizations Expert Advisory Panel. She was involved with voluntary organisations in Ghana, such as St John Ambulance and the Ghana Red Cross Society. The University of Ghana presented Docia with an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree for her extraordinary contributions to nursing on her 89th birthday, shortly before her passing in 2008.


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